Saturday, 10 October 2009


"Morning, Beautiful! Sleep well?"

Sanya stirred and groaned as his body slowly and gradually came back to life. Still too tired to open his eyes, he felt the light from a window tickling and enticing his face. He could hear the twittering of birds and the faint sound of children skipping and laughing while on their way to school. It could only mean one thing: he would have to get up. No matter how much he hated it, no matter how little he felt like facing the world and carrying on as if everything would be OK and work itself out, he knew that if he just lay there - even for one moment longer - it would only serve to prolong the sense of impending doom he felt during his waking hours. He couldn't yet put his finger on it, but this morning somehow didn't feel right.

He opened his eyes: he wasn't surprised by what he saw; and yet, for a brief moment, it felt like the strangest place on earth. He was in his room: he recognised it. Nothing new or particularly odd about waking up in his room. However, it wasn't his room. It had never been his room. Regardless of everything being undoubtedly his, indisputably placed in his style, and with decorations only he could have picked out and arranged scattered over the walls and furnishings of the place, it was not his room; and yet it was his room. He blinked, looked around, and stretched. Or, rather, his body moved for him. The routine was familiar to his shell, but the indefinable mass within continued to slosh about in a confused mess. He got up, put on his slippers (slippers? He hadn't worn slippers for months, surely?), and slowly undressed. His hand reached out for the towel lying on the radiator by the door. Once decent, he left the room, and turned for the bathroom.

After his shower, he wiped his face, and looked out of the window. Ah, England! His beautiful country. Sanya smiled, and felt reassured: Spain had, indeed, been just a dream...

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adios

What better way to express my feelings than by song?

I honestly don't know why. Perhaps it is because Julie Andrews was my grandmother's favourite film star (Deborah Kerr came a close second, since she was indistinguishable from the former - in my grandmother's eyes, anyway - in The King and I). Perhaps it is because it has seven singing Austrians in it. Perhaps it is because the songs are so damn catchy. Whatever the reason, The Sound of Music has never left the special place in my heart it has always occupied for as long as I can remember. Which is another slightly irksome fact of my existence, but what can we do?

When pondering over my penultimate post, I couldn't help but think of So Long, Farewell, sung by the Von Trapp children as they bid goodnight to their guests. Well, this is Sanya in España, after all. It wouldn't be one of my blog posts without some kitsch conceit being used as a tenuous introduction, would it. Anyway, on to the subtance.

Today, while sitting in my bedroom, I have been singing songs from The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, wondering why it has taken me so long to finally wrap this crazy blog up. The reason is simple: I haven't yet wanted to close the capsule and bury it for all time. Despite having been back for a month (yes, that's right, Sanya is no longer in España, but you had probably already guessed that), and having more-or-less readjusted to life in the UK, I didn't want to make it real by saying goodbye to the beloved blog.

All good things, though (as someone must have said for a first time), must come to an end. I had the best time, in Madrid. Really, the absolute best. Friendships were made, good experiences were had, and I even managed to adjust my figure (I won't tell you which way, though). How I will possibly live on elsewhere can only be decided by time. In any case, as the Von Trapp children sang:

"I hate to go and leave this pretty sight"

Goodbye, my dears; Goodbye...

PS: Since you asked, my favourite song is The Lonely Goatherd: it's a brilliant breathing and enunciation excercise. That's the official excuse, anyway.


Part Six
July and August 2009
Flying the Flag - Madrid Pride 2009

The Summer vacation turned out to be my busiest period of the entire year; more stressful, even, than both exam periods put together! Right from July the 1st, my life changed dramatically and took about a month to settle.

First came Orgullo '09. As some of my readers may already know, Madrid is a party city, and Gay Pride is no exception. In fact, it is one of the busiest events of the city's calendar (although, unlike Ken Livingstone, the City's officials never turn up in support of the event). Festivities began on the 1st of July and went on right up until the 6th. Out of those six days, I went to bed on one of them: the last day, and even then I wasn't alone...

I also started a new job in the Village of the Damned, or Pozuelo de Alarcón, as it is locally known. It wasn't so much that I didn't like the place, I just couldn't believe how suburban it was. Everything so perfectly planned, and everyone smiling so pleasantly. I desperately wanted to discover that the residents were all members of some pagan god-worshipping cult, or at least in the thrall of an alien overlord. No such luck; they were just all boring middle-class professionals. Work consisted of recapping the basics of English grammar for the benefit of local teenagers who couldn't be bothered to pass their end-of-year exams, despite being both intelligent and willing to learn. After a couple of weeks working at this school, I knew who to blame for this colossal failure. Based on what I had gathered over the previous months from spanish people of all ages and from all backgrounds, the spanish education system doesn't actually seem to be the best in the world. No one I ever spoke to had anything good to say about it, least of all the methods employed by spanish teachers of English - that is, go over rules, repeat them, get the students to copy them down, and never apply them in speech, since everything is explained in spanish. Luckily for the kids of Pozuelo, Sanya had come to their rescue. I actually really enjoyed being a teacher, there, despite the hour-long journey from home, and the less-than-satisfactory pay. I've always had the utmost respect for teaching, but even more so, now.

When I wasn't working, I even managed to have some sort of holiday. Summer Excursions to Cádiz, Salamanca and Segovia were timely breaks from Madrid life. Speaking of which, home life was not as peachy as I had hoped, for various reasons, none of which I will go into here. I share the blame, of course, but at least some sort of peace was finally made between my housemates and I before going our separate ways. If you want the gossip, tough*.

And so, as the summer months sped by, I was forced to come to terms with the inevitable truth of the impending doom. Preparations were made, plane tickets were bought, goodbyes were made, and I was soon to be on my way "home". Life would never be the same again...

Indeed, nothing will ever be the same for me, now that I have concluded my musings on my Year Abroad. The story ends here. Only a few more chapters to be read before the book can be closed, the light switched off, and you can go to bed. It was a good one, don't you think?

Reflections Series

Part One: Summer and September 2008

Part Two: October and November 2008

Part Three: Winter 2008-09

Part Four: March and April 2009

Part Five: May and June 2009

*I'll send you an email , if you ask really nicely.

Book Review: The Immoralist

The Immoralist (L'Immoraliste), by André Gide

Here's a marginally amusing little anecdote. When I was smugly telling any French person I met that I would be, was, or had just finished reading André Gide, I was greeted with blank faces. "How uncultured," I told myself, "one of the greatest exports of French literature, and they don't even know who he is. It would be like me never having heard of EM Forster."

It turns out, though, that the fault lay not with my interlocutors, but rather with my oh-so-clever-and-cultured self, who was pronouncing the name horribly incorrectly, as to render it absolutely unrecogniseable to the natives. Rather than saying " ɑ̃dʁe ʒid" ("aundray zhide"), I was saying "ɑ̃dʁe ɡiid" ("aunzhrey geed"), and probably coming across as the linguistic fraud I must be. Serves me right for such a shameless display of hubris.

Anyway, on to the review.

According to the introduction, Gide's publisher noted the saleability of the book based on its title. The title seems to be the most saleable aspect of the work, in my opinion. Don't get me wrong, it is very well written, and an engaging, intelligent piece, but I don't feel the immorality. Now, you may say that is because I am reading an early 20th Century novel from an early 21st Century perspective. Wrong: as far as I can see, when compared with Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, this is tame to the point of acceptable in the drawing room.

The main issue is the focus on the eponymous protaginist, Michel, and his "illness". A Queer reading (capital for emphasis on literary criticism, not just saying a queer is doing the criticising) might lead one to conclude that this is some sort of physical manifestation of the character's burgeoning sexuality, offset at first by the physical displacement from "civilised" Paris. However, reading on, there doesn't seem to be such a strong thematic link to connect these elements of the story. In fact, there is so much suggestion that vagueness becomes the overarching feel of the novel. Having said this, Michel's characterisation is strong and well presented, the piece as a whole subscribing to the early tradition of the first-person narrative novel, which allows for more subjective writing, and therefore a more interesting objective reading experience. While Michel is unsure of what his illness actually is, the reader - especially the 21st Century reader - is all too aware.

All in all, it is a good (but not a great) read.